When you’re feline sad, take a paws and head over to the @herschel_lacat Instagram account for tails of animal adventures.
Scripps College writing associate Adam Novy began the account for his cats in 2017, not expecting its growth to amass over 12,000 followers just three years later. Accompanying the thousands of photos of cats Herschel and X-Ray, the Instagram captions detail wild plotlines of the two brothers flying “around in a hybrid spaceship/taco truck, solving mysteries, having adventures [and] healing the damage caused by life,” according to one of the posts.
“I like goofy, crazy adventures, so really [creating the account] was just a way to have a good time,” Novy said.
Herschel’s typical Maine Coon personality — demanding, loud, hungry, affectionate and “emotionally omnipresent” — inspired Novy to create the account, titled “Herschel LACat” because “he’s such a Los Angeles character,” according to Novy.
“There’s never a time when he doesn’t want to be petted,” Novy said. “He spends a lot of time sort of on top of my chest, smashing my face with his face, so he’s just a very, very assertive guy. And X-Ray is a really angelic character, so he’s really the opposite of Herschel. But they sort of complete each other.”
Expanding off of Herschel’s and X-Ray’s personalities, Novy crafted dimensional characters. One post describes X-Ray as “a tender kleptomaniac black cat with a fake New Zealand accent and at least three distinct identities.”
Novy said he depicts X-Ray as “an exuberant young boy,” the little brother of the relationship.
“Sometimes he’ll have some corny catchphrase, and he’ll repeat it over and over again,” he said. “This week it’s ‘You’ve been vandalized by Huguenots.’”
In contrast, the worldly Herschel understands the complexities and corrupt aspects of life.
“Cats are really mystical anyway, so you can project all kinds of mysticism onto them,” Novy said. “I know this makes me seem like a raving lunatic, but, I mean, that’s what I am.”
After a month of exploring Herschel’s character and cat photography, Novy discovered an anchor for his worldbuilding.
“I always thought, ‘Herschel is so affectionate — what was his relationship like with his mother?’” he said. “Everything is sort of seen through the lens of that.”
Finding the kitten in a box near a freeway, a pit bull rescue service brought Herschel to a horse ranch that fosters kittens. After hearing about the injured Maine Coon, Novy adopted him, hoping to help energize his 18-year-old cat, who later died.
“We don’t really think of [cats] this way, but they almost always have these tragic stories where they come off the street,” he said. “Like, if human beings were living on the street, it would be like this life of tragedy. But cats take it in stride. And they can’t tell us what their lives were like.”
Through searching for his mother after her disappearance, the character Herschel LACat develops a community of zany characters, such as X-Ray’s sister, a retired credit card scam master living in Joshua Tree, and Quarthox the Bringer, a generous floating alien who resembles an upside-down squid. Quarthox built the spaceship taco truck that transports the team on their adventures.
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Tonight was a quiet night at the taco truck, so I caught up on my reading, and found this line: “Ambiguity supposes an eventual resolution of itself, whereas certitude implies future ambiguity.” I could not agree more, I think. #cats #catsofinstagram #mainecoon #adderall #ambien #xanax #teamlexapro #thc #xidvicious #thiccwhiteduke #snackmamba #darlingthiccy #fernetbranca #yoga #contentmarketing #sergegainsbourg #charlottegainsbourg #janebirkin #francoisehardy #vinyl #davidbowie #tomwaits #lagavulin #tacos #parisienne #ninasimone #frostedtips #nico #vintage #themountain
“It was important that there be a taco truck because it represents the part of Los Angeles that I live in, and Los Angeles in general is like a taco truck city,” Novy said. “So I wanted taco truck culture to be represented.”
Books often inspire Novy, but usually, ideas simply pop into his head.
“It’s not that I have to try to have them — it’s that I cannot stop having them,” he said. “This is an opportunity for me to have a fake world that the more dense I make it, the more interesting it can be for myself.”
With 10 to 20 dedicated followers who closely follow the storyline, Novy built up his feline fanbase “one joke at a time.”
One such gag is the account’s “sponsor,” Fernet-Branca liqueur, which does not officially partner with @herschel_lacat. While Novy has been approached for pet-targeted sponsorships, he does not want to make money off of Instagram.
“Herschel is a sort of expert on cocktail culture, you know,” Novy said.
Unconventional hashtags add humor as well as attract new followers.
“The way that people use hashtags to promote themselves is just so lame, so I saw it as an easy opportunity for a joke,” he said. “I also realized that hashtags are a way that people search Instagram. So I want people who are interested in 60s and 70s French culture to read Herschel LACat because his mother was obsessed with 60s and 70s French culture, and she told him that he was the reincarnation of the French pop star Serge Gainsbourg, who is kind of like the Bob Dylan of France.”
Along with medication hashtags like #xanax and #adderall, Novy used to include #lexapro but changed to #teamlexapro after receiving a complaint.
“I searched Lexapro after I got this angry message from a stranger, and the only thing that came up were pictures of my cats,” Novy said. “I take Lexapro, so I feel like I’m entitled to it, but I changed it because she asked me to. It is crazy — it does make me look like a total asshole.”
Other hashtags include #snackmamba, Herschel’s basketball name; #frostedtips, the cats’ heavy metal band; and #darlingthiccy, a song Prince wrote for Herschel, a play on the song “Darling Nikki.”
Novy also encourages community by talking to people who like his posts and making friends with his followers.
“Social media is such a toxic shithole, but I find that people really want friends and someone to be nice to them, and they want to be nice to someone else,” he said. “I’ve made all these friends — people who I talk to all the time. I know about their lives; I know their children’s names.”
“It’s been a way into a different life.”
For much of his time as a writer, Novy relished bleak endings, but over time, his tastes changed.
“The posts that I make are the last thing I do before I go to sleep, and at the end of the day, I just want to leave something nice,” he said. “So even if something bad happens, it’s always in the context of, ‘Everything will be OK.’”
Furthermore, Novy redeems every “bad guy” in Herschel’s feline world except for the comical villain, the Skylark, who rejects redemption.
“So much of our lives on the internet are constructed to make us fight with each other and be alienated with each other, and that’s how the algorithms work to increase engagement and make bad people rich,” he said. “I feel like by interacting in a positive way, I can help make people happier.
“I’m not leaving a big footprint in the world — cats don’t leave footprints. They’re too light on their feet. I’m just trying to have a nice time.”
Novy also passed on messages from Herschel and X-Ray.
“Herschel would want to say that he hopes this interview was circulated as widely as possible so that his mother might see it,” he said.
“X-Ray wants to say that you’ve been vandalized by Huguenots.”
Find Herschel on Instagram at @herschel_lacat.